Heman Bekele, 14, from Virginia, has been named America's Top Young Scientist 2023 for developing a soap that could replace expensive medicines as a treatment for some forms of skin cancer. The ninth-grade student was one of 10 finalists in this year's 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
The teens all applied for the challenge in a video presentation of their research or invention idea. The finalists were each paired with a scientist from the company to develop their project before taking part in the final challenges.
Heman Bekele arrived in the U.S.A. at age four from Ethiopia. His innovation was inspired by conditions in his home country, where many agricultural workers are exposed to the sun for years. Some go on to develop skin cancer but Heman discovered that the average price of skin-cancer treatment is $40,000 USD, far beyond the means of most Ethiopians. His soap, which delivers cancer-fighting compounds directly and simply to the skin, can treat minor cancers for less than $10.
Skin cancer is also the most common cancer in the U.S.A. and the soap treatment could reduce an annual bill of $8.1 billion.
Over the next five years, he hopes to use the cash prize to refine his innovation and create a nonprofit organization that will distribute this low-cost solution to communities in need. He also plans to study electrical engineering.
Annie Katz, also a ninth-grader, from New York state, won the Improving Lives Award, voted for by the public, for her Automated Ultrasound Hamstring Lesion Detection & Diagnosis device, which offers a more accessible way to detect and recover from hamstring lesions. Annie, an athlete, got the idea after suffering a hamstring injury herself.
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